World Championship medallists are back in action as the African Open Championships kick off on Wednesday (20 February) in Hurghada, Egypt.
With 108 athletes from 28 nations competing – including from 11 African countries – the fourth edition is an opportunity for fighters to continue their successes from the Worlds held earlier this month in Antalya, Turkey.
“The presence of this great event in Egypt was the spark for gathering all the available players with special needs,” said Dr. Hassan Kamal of the Egyptian Taekwondo Federation. “The players had a very short camp for some preparation [as] we are new to the field of Para taekwondo.”
African stars to watch for
Morocco’s Rachid Ismaili Alaoui is the biggest name from the region to keep a close eye on in the men’s over 75kg K43. The defending African champion claimed bronze in his first fight in his new division in Antalya.
Cameroon's Alain Clovis Mbassi Eleme impressed at last year's event, making it to the quarter finals, but dropped a tough opening-round decision at this month's Worlds.
But the Championships will be missing two of their biggest stars.
Morocco’s Mohammed Aatif looked set to take his first African title after an impressive display in winning bronze in the men’s up to 75kg K44 in Antalya. But he could not make the trip due to a death in the family.
His teammate Rajae Akermach is also unable to attend, meaning that the women’s over 58kg K44 will have a new champion. Akermach had won all three titles, including an impressive win over Great Britain’s top-ranked Amy Truesdale last year.
Picking up the slack will be teammates Sanaa El Bouni and Naoual Laarif, who both made the quarter finals in 2018. An improvement on that from either fighter would mark a major breakthrough.
Non-African fighters to watch for
The Worlds proved that rankings are just numbers.
Truesdale, the reigning world champion and world No. 1, felt just that when she crashed out in the Worlds quarter finals. She is in Hurghada looking for redemption and would only earn half the ranking points compared to her African counterparts.
Croatia’s Ivan Mikulic – the top fighter in the men’s over 75 kg K44 – fared worse. He failed to register a point at the Worlds and needs a strong showing in Egypt to keep his hold on No. 1 in the sport’s most unpredictable division.
Other top-ranked stars looking to get back on track include Turkey’s pair of Meryem Betul Cavdar (women’s up to 49 kg K44) and Gamze Gurdal (women’s up to 59 kg K44); and Italy’s Antonino Bossolo (men’s up to 75 kg K44). All are ranked in the top four of the world rankings but failed to medal in Antalya.